By Kilemi Mwiria
We all appreciate that our striking professionals have a case. Teachers are the key to any country’s development. They provide the basic foundation for all professionals, from judges, politicians and their partners in strike, the doctors. Doctors are equally critical for a healthy nation without which there will be no growth. We need so many more of them that we cannot afford to discourage the few that we have.
Moreover, Vision 2030 could be one long mirage without the inputs of university lecturers. In addition to enlightened and committed leadership, academics are the reasons developed economies are where they are today. We have no choice but to make the striking professionals happy. Teachers have a case when they ask for a harmonisation of their salaries and allowances with those of other civil servants. It is unfair for Government employees of similar qualifications to earn so differently. For example, the difference between a teacher and a civil servant at job group ‘P’ could be as much as Sh50,000.
And all are right to ask why it is they, and not the civil servants, the police and military that have to wait for the establishment of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission before their salaries are reviewed. Minister Dalmas Otieno (Public Service) has contributed to this national crisis by addressing the plight of civil servants while placing his colleagues Mutula Kilonzo (Education) and Margaret Kamar (Higher Education) in a most unenviable position.
Likewise, the establishment of a commission to look into doctors’ remuneration was pointless if its recommendations were never going to be considered. The biggest danger, however, is that the unrest could trigger a type of national discontent that could be uncontrollable at a time the country is at war and with serious internal strife.
Those negatively affected by the current wave of strikes – teachers, lecturers, doctors and their families; primary, secondary and university students and their parents – could account for more than half of the national population. No country can afford this level of discontent, especially with the challenges of war and tribal conflicts. Things could easily get out of hand if selfish politicians take advantage of the chaos. For the sake of our national stability, the economy and the families of the striking professionals, a compromise is urgently needed. The striking professional can be made to understand why it may be impractical to give them everything they are asking for now in view of the many other challenges confronting the country. But to be persuaded, there must be a willingness on the part of the Government to meet with them in the middle for a mutually acceptable solution.
If our teachers and doctors get more motivated, we shall save from bloated supervision structures and the quality of public school education will be better. With regard to national examinations, it would be unfair for the Kenya National Examinations Council to evaluate students in public schools the same way as their counterparts in private schools, most of which are in operation. A weighted instrument is called for. Now that it is in place, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission must provide a permanent solution to save us the reputation of a striking nation.
The writer is MP for Tigania West and Assistant Minister Higher Education, Science and Technology